House of the week: Ski-friendly Ohakune holiday home
Given his aversion to skiing, acquiring a holiday house near Mt Ruapehu was not an obvious choice for Murray Tait.
The Hawke's Bay exporter has always yearned for the tropics when temperatures begin to plummet. Yet he willingly traipses to Ohakune most winter weekends, to hunker down in a weatherboard villa 25 minutes drive from the Turoa skifield where wife Vanessa skis with their children.
The Taits bought their cold weather retreat six years ago, after Vanessa's mother died and left them a nest egg. Determined not to fritter away the inheritance, the couple spent almost a year considering their options. "We were wanting to have a bit of a legacy, something for the whole family, something intergenerational," says Vanessa.
It was Murray who sealed the deal. Fresh off a plane and jetlagged, he began researching local real estate while his family skied nearby. As his enthusiasm grew, Vanessa declined to mention she had been quietly looking at houses in Ohakune for months.
She did, however, point out that Ohakune was a mere two-and-a-half hour drive from their Havelock North doorstep and not too far for Murray's older children Spencer and Morgan – both of whom ski – to drive south from Auckland. Murray, whose office is mobile, could have the house to himself while everyone else was on the mountain and the family would gather round the fire on wintry afternoons and evenings. Which is pretty much what happens, according to Murray. "It's quality time with my family," he says.
For Vanessa, who learned to ski as a teenager, the house provides an opportunity to play alongside sons Fraser and Campbell. "Whereas Murray coached rugby or bodysurfed with them, a lot of the time I was on the sidelines holding the drink bottles, washing the cricket gear or holding the towels. This is something I could do with my boys. And they still concede to ski with me occasionally."
When the boys were younger, Vanessa would take them to the mountains for an occasional day trip or weekend. Once the holiday abode was theirs, they skied every available Saturday and Sunday. Both boys became ski team members at Napier Boys High School and Fraser has since become a qualified ski instructor, studying tourism and management at Wellington's Victoria University and instructing at Turoa in winter.
In Ohakune, it's Murray who delivers skiers and their gear to the chairlifts with the help of Hilda, their battered but reliable green Toyota. And he keeps the home fires burning.
"I don't know if I should say this but we call him our 'bach bitch'," Vanessa says, laughing. "He lights the fire, walks the dog, works on his laptop. He'll pick us up at the end of the day. In fact, he gets a bit toey if we don't ski on a marginal day."
The Taits don't consider themselves tourists. They have formed friendships with permanent residents in their street: the builder across the road and the immediate neighbours who own the nearby cafe, OCR, that Murray frequents during the day.
During their first season, he would visit the eatery and make the same request each time; a bacon butty with an extra egg. When he returned the following season to find his favourite dish added to the menu, it was clear the family had gained status as part-time locals.
They have made the house their own since purchasing it at a mortgagee auction. The former railway cottage had rotting weatherboards and a roof in need of replacement, some windows that were painted shut and others that were so gappy they let in a draught that felt like "a force 10 gale". Vanessa was unfazed, nostalgically recalling similar places – draughty villas with a crockpot bubbling in one corner – during memorable ski holidays with childhood friends.
Insulation has been added, along with a new fireplace, a dining table and new beds that include built-in bunks to accommodate a crowd. Almost everything else has been cobbled together on a tight budget, using Vanessa's interior design credentials and hands-on skills. She hauled her sewing machine to Ohakune to remake existing curtains, and reupholstered chairs that hailed from the university student flat she lived in 30 years earlier. She also created cushions from blankets that once lay on her childhood bed.
"It's an old house and it doesn't have our history but it's full of my family history, in particular. Like the cushions made out of jumpers Mum had knitted for the boys and artwork done by my father, that've been in the back cupboard. It makes it feel like it's always been ours. It's my happy place."
Second-hand crockery, cutlery and sofas have also proven ideal for the gangs of boys or groups of friends who frequently gather at the Tait abode.
"It's always full. Murray loves to have it full and used by family and friends and I don't want it to be precious. I want it to be a really happy gathering point with 12 people round the table eating curry. A memory bank going forward."
OFF THE SLOPES: We do like walking in winter. There's nothing like putting on a big jacket and scarf, your nose pink and your cheeks burning from the cold. Or stoking up the fi re and curling up on the sofa with a book, a movie or an All Black test. Murray also likes to say we're staggering distance from three bars and fi ve restaurants. (Vanessa)
WE HAD TO HAVE: Good beds, a good shower and be warm. (Murray)
BEST BAKING IN TOWN: Johnny Nation's Chocolate Éclair Shop sells these enormous, misshapen chocolate éclairs full of fresh cream. It's only open May till November and they tell me they sell 600-800 éclairs a day. (Murray)
ONE DAY: When both boys have left home, I dream of living here for the whole winter, skiing during the week when it's quieter. And even if we sell the family home, I think and hope Ohakune will always bring us together. (Vanessa)
Murray and Vanessa Tait
- NZ House & Garden